Aspects of Love

Part Five


Xander looked up to see Giles storming towards him. Xander looked back at Ren, realised what Giles was angry about, but before he had time to protest he found himself being flung to one side by the older man.

"Get away from her!" Giles glared at him

"What the hell is this?" Buffy exclaimed taking in the scene before her "What the hell happened?"

Giles had one hand pressed up against the side of Ren's head, trying to stem the blood flow. Buffy looked at Giles and then to Xander, who was just staring blankly at the still form of Ren and Giles who was trying to get her to wake up. "*Xander*?"

Xander snapped out of it and looked to Buffy "Is she-"

Buffy strode quickly over to Xander and hauled him to his feet "Xander what happened?"

"I'm calling an ambulance" Giles said, "She's losing too much blood."

Xander stared at Ren until Buffy caught hold of his bottom jaw and made him look back at her "*What* *happened*?"

"I-I don't… Xander trailed off and looked blankly at Buffy "What?"

Buffy grabbed hold of Xander's arm and propelled him out through the back of the shop. She pushed him up against the wall, still holding onto his arm. Buffy looked at him with hurt mixed with anger in her eyes "I know you didn't do anything Xander but you have to tell me what happened so I can tell Giles. Xander *please*"

"I-I didn't… t-the-the thing i-it flew. T-the jar."

Buffy just looked at him and loosened her grip on his arm "The jar flew?"

Xander nodded distractedly, he was beginning to lose his focus on the conversation. Something else from earlier was trying to push itself back into his mind. "O-off the shelf" he heard himself tell Buffy "There was… was… glass."

"Then why didn't you say that earlier Xander?" Y'know this is just like you lately. You have to make me work so *hard* to get a decent answer out of you" Buffy looked at him with disbelief "God, are you even listening to me now?"

Xander tried to focus back in on Buffy "What? Buffy?"

"I said are you even listening to-" Buffy broke off "Forget it" she said, trying to keep her voice from cracking "I'm going back inside. If you hadn't noticed Ren is seriously hurt."

Buffy went to walk away but Xander caught hold of her arm, managing to fight back his thoughts that were threatening to take him over "Wait! Wait Buffy, I have to talk to you."

Buffy pulled her arm from Xander's grasp "Talk Xander? Talk? That's all I've been trying to do with you for days" she looked at him in disbelief "And you want to choose *now*?"

"Buffy *please*…"

"Xander, *no*. Not now" Buffy replied "I'm going back in there and tell him what you just told me and then I'll go with him and Ren to the hospital. And *then*" she said "*Then* do you know what I'm going to do Xander?"

Xander just stared back at her. He couldn't focus. Couldn't answer.

"I'll tell you shall I? I'm gonna go stay with my dad, at least for a couple of days. Get out of Sunnydale. Be by myself for a few days. Get everything that's *supposed* to be *us*, sorted out in my head. *Then* we will talk"

Xander couldn't quite grasp what she was saying, "You're leaving?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Yeah, I'm leaving Xander" Buffy hesitated, then she took off her engagement ring and held it out to Xander "Maybe if you have this" she said "It'll help you to think things through" Buffy waited for Xander to take it but he just stared back at her blankly. Buffy swallowed hard and then dropped the ring on the floor by his feet "I'll let you get that" she said before she walked back to the store.

Xander just stared after her, not moving, not speaking. Shortly he looked down at the ground by his feet where the ring glinted in the sunshine. Only it was a sunshine that Xander didn't feel. Xander's world was dark. Nothing made sense anymore.

Buffy was leaving.

Buffy didn't want him anymore.

What did he do now?


Buffy followed Giles to some seats in the ER waiting area. It had been about twenty minutes since Ren had been brought in. Buffy waited until Giles sat down before taking a seat herself, putting a few empty chairs in between them. Giles had taken off his jacket and began wringing it in his hands.

"It's the waiting that I think I hate most about hospitals" Buffy said quietly.

Giles turned to her "She'll be OK, don't you think?" he asked.

"The doctors seemed to think so."

"There was an awful lot of blood" Giles said with a distant look in his eyes.

"Ren began to come round in the ambulance Giles" Buffy said, "I'm pretty sure that's a good sign"

"Yes, yes. You're probably right Buffy."

They sat together in silence for a few more minutes before Buffy spoke again. "Giles, you have to know Xander wouldn't have done it anyway don't you?"

Giles turned to look at her, ashamed of his previous actions "I know. I-I can't believe I-I ever thought-" he broke off mid-sentence and looked at the floor "I just saw Ren there and with all... all the blood" Giles looked back at Buffy "I can't say sorry enough"

Buffy was silent for a few moments "If it… if it helps any, I don't think it registered with him"

Giles frowned at her "What do you mean?"

Buffy sighed again "I don't think anything I said to him got through. He looked like he was in his own little world."

"Why? What else did you say to him?"

Buffy leant back in her seat "After we find out if Ren is OK, I'm going to pack a few things and go stay with my dad for a few days"


Buffy nodded "I need to clear my head" Buffy absently scratched at her finger where her ring would have been.

Giles noticed "Obviously you're serious"

"Things are changing between me and Xander and I don't like it" Buffy admitted "I want him back but I don't even know-" Buffy broke off and laughed a little in spite of herself "Where to start looking for him. I just thought maybe... maybe if I *shocked* him into doing something, it might snap him out of whatever he's in"

"And you think giving him back your ring is the best way?"

Buffy was silent. "Probably not" she said finally. She closed her eyes and slouched back into her seat "Oh god... he wanted to talk as well and I just *left* him there. I can't believe I did that."

"Perhaps you should go and talk to him now" Giles suggested "I'd say between us we've certainly shocked him into doing something."

Buffy turned to look at Giles who looked back at her sadly. "I need to go home first" Buffy said, "Gather some emotional reserves. I can't go to him straight from here" she sighed "I need quality mom advice."

"I'll let you know about things here" Giles said to Buffy when she stood up to go "The doctors said they'd know something soon anyway"

"She'll be OK Giles" Buffy tried to give him a reassuring smile "I've seen people recover from worse."


Xander didn't know how he'd managed to make it back to his apartment. But he had, and now he was there he didn't know what to do.

He felt numb all over. He couldn't think straight. New thoughts had invaded his mind, but that didn't make them any better than the older ones he was trying to shut out.

Xander stumbled over to his couch, gripping the back of it tightly to stop himself from falling. He hurt all over and he didn't know how to make it go away. Worse than the pain in his head, his heart hurt most of all.

Buffy was leaving and it was all his fault.

Buffy didn't want him anymore and it was all his fault.

"Why does the earth never open up and swallow you when you want it to?" he croaked out "Why does it have to be *my* world that comes crashing down? Why can't it-" Xander broke off and forced back tears "Why can't it be someone else?"

Xander let go of the back of the couch and managed to keep his balance long enough to get to the doorway to his kitchen. He leant against the frame and closed his eyes. Xander felt lost. If he didn't have Buffy, what did he have?

Xander began searching through his cupboards. He needed something, alcohol, anything. Just needed something to make him not feel anything. If he could just make it all go away then it would be alright.

At least that was the theory.

If he hadn't drunk all the alcohol he had last night.

Xander slammed the last cupboard in frustration and with a yell he began puling out all the drawers. As the contents of the last drawer fell onto the floor, one thing caught Xander's eye.

//If I could just make it all go away…//

Xander bent down to pick up the small knife that had clattered to his feet. Just as his fingers were about to make contact with the handle, both of his hands flew to his head as he stumbled backwards, as for the second time that day intense pain ripped through his skull.

Xander stumbled towards his bathroom. //Painkillers… need to… need to make it stop//. Xander opened the door on his medicine cabinet. One hand pressed up against his forehead in a futile effort to try and ease the pain, the other hand was rummaging around the three small shelves in the cabinet for painkillers of any description. Finally after a yell of frustration, Xander hit his fist into the side of the cabinet, knocking it off the wall and onto the floor after it failed to yield what he wanted.

The tears flowed freely from Xander as the pain worsened, gripping his head in both hands as he had done that morning; Xander sank to his knees and wept, letting the memories override him.


Ren struggled to sit up in her bed when Giles came into her room. She gave him a weak smile. "Y'know there are certain times when I wish I still had certain abilities". Ren gently touched the left side of her head by her temple where the jar had struck and she'd fallen against the table. The cuts she had sustained from the glass were deep but had only required a few stitches and were currently under the cover of a large gauze pad taped to the side of her head.

"The doctors assure me you are fine" Giles smiled back "They just want to keep you in overnight for observation."

"Ah, which means I get to sample the delights of hospital gelatine substances."

"Another drawback of being human and in hospital" Giles replied with a slight smile. He pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down "How are you feeling apart from all that?" he asked.

Ren groaned "Like I've been hit by an exploding glass jar" she replied "What the hell did you have in it Rupert? Or do you have a poltergeist that really doesn't like me?"

Giles looked down at the floor "Um… it was probably some kind of potion that reacted to the others around it" he answered "Made it volatile."

"I'll say" Ren touched her head again gingerly "How's Xander? He didn't get hit by anymore flying potions did he? I think that guy has had enough head injuries to last him for quite a few years yet" Ren waited for Giles to look back up at her "Um… Rupert?"

"Xander's fine" Giles answered her, attempting a smile as he looked back up at her "No more flying jars."

"Well, that's good" Ren said "Although I don't know about the *fine* part"

"What do you mean?"

"I really don't think he's well" Ren stated with concern "He was acting really strange at the store earlier…" Ren trailed off noting Giles' look "And what aren't you telling me?"


Willow knocked on Xander's apartment door "Xander? You in?" Willow waited for a response but didn't get one. With a sigh she took her key ring out of her pocket and searched for Xander's key. Finding it she put it into the lock and turned it, opening the door and then walking in.

Closing the door behind her, the first thing that Willow noticed was the empty beer bottles strewn about the floor. She shook her head "When will he learn the answer is not in the bottom of a bottle."

Willow dropped her bag on the chair by the TV and began to pick up the empty bottles //Jeez, I'm supposed to be here to talk to him, not be his maid service//. Willow took the bottles through to the kitchen and then almost dropped them again when she saw all the mess.

Willow set the bottles down on the counter top except one, which she kept in her hand, ready to use on someone’s head if the situation called for it "Xander?" she called out again "Are you here?" Willow stepped cautiously out into the small hallway that led to Xander's bedroom and the bathroom "Xander?"

Willow couldn't hear anything, but a gut feeling told her something wasn't right. Willow quickly checked in Xander's bedroom for any sign of life but didn't find anything or one. She made her way to the bathroom and pushed open the door but it only opened so far. Willow poked her head around the door and found that the obstruction was Xander.

"Hey Xander" Willow said softly as she stepped easily through the small gap between door and frame and into the bathroom "Why didn’t you answer me when I called?" Willow set the bottle she had been holding in the sink. She saw the clutter on the floor and frowned "What happened here?"

Xander didn’t answer her. He was sat behind the door, back up against the wall. His chin rested on the top of his knees that he was hugging tightly to his chest and he was staring blankly ahead, eyes red from crying.

Willow stood before Xander and looked at him with concern "Xander, are you OK and that’s probably a stupid question ‘cos you’re obviously not" Willow crouched down beside him and put her hand to his forehead. Xander immediately flinched back, taking Willow by surprise.

"Hey, it's just me Xander" she said quickly "I just want to see if you’re OK"

Suddenly as if finally registering that there was actually somebody there with him, Xander’s gaze fell on to Willow. He studied her for a few seconds before Willow saw any sign that he recognised her at all.

Xander blinked a couple of time in quick succession "Willow?" he asked hoarsely.

"Yeah, it’s me Xan" Willow managed to give him a small smile "Wanna tell me what’s wrong?"

"It won’t go away" Xander replied in a small voice. He hugged his knees tighter to his chest "I try to make it go, but it won’t" Xander ducked his head and began rocking back and forth "She won’t go"

Those last words of Xander’s were a barely audible whisper that Willow only just made out. Willow reached out to touch one of Xander’s hands, but as soon as she made the slightest contact with him, he flinched back.

"Xander" Willow said anxiously "Xander, what’s wrong? Who’s *she*?"

Xander didn’t answer her and Willow badly wanted to put her arms around her friend but given his reaction the last two times she’d touched him she didn’t know what his response would be to that. "Do you want me to get Buffy?" Willow asked.

"Buffy’s gone" Xander said, still not looking at her "Buffy’s not coming back."

"She’s *what*?" Willow couldn’t help her exclamation.

Xander looked up at her with red rimmed eyes "I made Buffy hate me" his voice began to crack "She doesn’t want me anymore. She doesn’t want me." The tears began to flow freely as Xander repeated those last four words over and over again.

This time Willow didn't hesitate as she put her arms around Xander, and when he didn't pull back from her, Willow held on to him tightly. "I'm sure that's not true" Willow said in a soothing voice.

Xander's sobs became more audible even when he pressed his face into Willow's shoulder. "I-I can't t-take any… anymore" he choked out "Everyth-thing she said is true. Buff… Buffy hates me like that b-bitch said she would."

"Oh Xander" Willow kept holding him "I really have no idea in hell what you're talking about" she admitted "But I'm gonna stay here and I'm gonna try and make it all better OK?"

"It's all my fault" Xander wept "I-it was all my f-fault."

Willow began to rock with Xander "Shushhh sweetie, I'll try and make it better" she whispered soothingly in his ear "It's gonna be OK"


### Begin flashback ###

Xander hit Tay's hand out of the way when she went to reach for his arm "Don't you *touch* me" he hissed "Don't you touch me *ever* again" he backed away from her.

Tay pouted "But you enjoyed *so* much last time"

Xander ignored her "Where is *she*? Where's Buffy? What have you done to her?!"

"And what makes you think I'm *not* Buffy" Tay said, moving quickly towards Xander and managing to get hold of him before he could get away.

Xander looked directly into her eyes "Because she would never had done what you did." Xander said, "Tara hypnotised me. I remember what you said… you *used* me and-and Buffy would never have done that to me. Where is she?!" Xander struggled to get away but Tay had a firm grip on his wrist.

Tay smiled and waved her hand and suddenly Xander saw the small camera on the wall above the door "Buffy's everywhere" Tay said "She knows *everything*"

"W-what… I-" Xander was silenced by lips being forced onto his, he tried to pull away but a hand gripped his head hard from behind.

Then Tay pulled back, letting go of Xander "Buffy knows *everything*"

Xander made a bolt for the door but she was quicker and by the time Xander got anywhere near the door Tay was standing in front of it, blocking his exit.

"Sorry honey" Tay shoved him backwards and Xander hit the floor "But you're not going anywhere."

Xander scrambled back towards the wall "I don't understand! Why are you doing this?! *Who* *are* you?!"

"Well of course you don't understand *honey*. You're not supposed to. And as for why I'm doing this… well…" Tay walked towards him and Xander looked up at her "My name is Tranquillity. Tay for short. I believe you knew my sister Serendipity *very* well"

Xander's eyes widened "Sisters? I-I didn't know-"

"You broke Ren's heart" Tay interrupted "Did you know that? Now that wasn't very nice of you was it?"

Xander tried to get to his feet but she pushed him back down again "I didn't-" Xander began.

"Oh I'm afraid you did" Tay said. She smiled "And you still feel guilty for that don't you" Tay knelt beside him and pushed him further back against the wall he had scrambled back towards "I saw your little face when you read the letter I sent saying she wasn't coming back" her eyes glittered "You miss Ren more than you admit even to yourself"

"You-you sent it?"

"Uh huh" Tay moved her hand that was against his chest so that it was gripping his jaw "And like I said. You miss her" Tay leaned in close to Xander "You know, since I've been Buffy" she continued "I've noticed the different ways you've looked at me and I've got to tell you, I don't think the real Buffy would be too happy with some of them"

Xander gasped in pain when Tay increased the pressure on his lower jaw. Tay grinned and continued "I *know* some of those looks were because you were remembering times past" Tay drawled. She smirked and drew back from Xander "But that's quite enough of that" she sighed and shook her head "Look at this, you started to distract me from what I came here to do."

"And-" Xander grimaced as Tay stood up and not releasing her grip, she hauled him up at the same time "What's that?"

"I'm going to kill you" Tay replied "And your little girlfriend is going to watch" Tay grabbed hold of the back of Xander's sweater and then released her hold on his jaw. She moved to behind him and manoeuvred him so that he was in front of the camera.

"Buffy doesn’t have much longer left herself" Tay continued "Just long enough to watch you die before her eyes.

Xander tried to twist away but Tay caught hold of his arm and held him in place "Why are you doing this?" Xander asked as he still continued to struggle.

"Because I can" Tay replied. She let go of his sweater and grabbed a handful of his hair, pulling his head back. She let go of his arm and held out the now free hand in front of her and suddenly a knife materialised from nowhere in her palm.

"Say bye bye" Tay hissed cruelly in Xander's ear and she pulled his head even further, exposing more of Xander's throat "Your little bitch girlfriend is gonna get such a kick outta watching all this"

In all the ways Xander had imagined his death, this hadn't been one of them. The throat slitting maybe, but not it happening infront of the woman he loved. Not because someone thought it was *fun*, something to get their kicks out of. But one thing had always remained constant in the way he would die and that was that he would fight until the bitter end, hopefully taking with him the person or persons who were making it happen.

But not this time. Xander was numb with fear. The only thing he could feel was the knife against his throat and Tay's warm breath on his neck. He swallowed hard when he felt the sharp blade break his skin and the blood rushing to the surface. Xander closed his eyes and waited for the knife to continue its path across his throat. But it didn't happen

Instead Xander found himself being shoved forward, hard. He didn't even have time to put his hands out to break his fall, breaking it with his face instead.

Before he could scramble to his feet, Tay had managed to turn him over so he was on his back and she sat straddling his stomach. Tay tossed the knife to one side and grabbed hold of Xander's wrists as his defence mechanisms finally kicked in and he tried to lash out at her. Tay grinned evilly as she pinned them both down on the ground above his head.

"Xander baby" she crooned in a sickly sweet voice "Why are you struggling?" Tay pouted "You never played hard to get before."

Xander tried to kick his legs out to try and throw Tay off him but as soon as he went to move them they suddenly felt like lead, almost trying to sink into the floor by themselves. He couldn't move them at all. Somehow Xander knew it was something Tay had done.

Tay shook her head "Now you *can't* struggle can you?" Tay leaned further down towards Xander so their faces were millimetres apart. Xander kept trying to move away from her, but Tay took one of her hands from Xander's wrists and used it took grab a handful of his hair, holding him still. Tay looked into his eyes; her own blues ones glittering dangerously.

"You're probably wondering why I don't just kill you and get it over with aren't you?" she asked.

Xander didn't answer her. Tay drew back a little and then lifted his head up by his hair and then smashed it back down against the floor. Xander did well not to cry out in pain, determined not to give Tay the satisfaction.

"*Aren't* *you*?" Tay said again with more force. Xander still didn't answer her and had his head thumped onto the floor again for his efforts. This time he couldn't help but let out hiss of pain as his head connected with the hard floor.

"Oh sorry honey, did that hurt?" Tay looked at him with mock concern then she grinned cruelly again "Want me to kiss it better?" Tay pulled hard on his hair again and Xander grimaced. He stared up into Tay's eyes as she leaned forward again "Surely you can't have forgotten" she continued in a husky voice "The fun times we had? The hours spent-" Tay brushed her lips against his and Xander tried to squirm away. Tay took his bottom lip between her teeth and bit hard, drawing blood "-naked together."

Xander stared coldly back up at her "There weren't *that* *many* hours" he said in a voice that matched his stare "As I recall"

"Oh so you do *recall* then" Tay murmured against his lips, shifting further back down Xander's body so she was now straddling his hips "I'd thought you'd forgotten" Tay's grasp on Xander's hair loosened and she began running her fingers through it instead "Y'know, I wonder what Buffy made of it all. She really didn't seem to thrilled when I told her about our little bump and grind sessions."

"Just so we're clear" Xander eyes bored into hers "You know I hate you, right?"

"Pretty much a given mate" Tay replied, uncaring "I'm an evil bitch. It's understandable that you have those kinds of feelings towards me."

"You're also an *insane* evil bitch"

"Well, now you're going too far" she pouted "I'm hurt" Tay let go of Xander's wrists, but Xander still couldn't move them as they seemed to be held down by invisible bonds. Tay sat up and put her hands on her hips "But I'll live. Which is more than I can say for you" Tay tilted her head to one side and sighed "Y'know, I really think Buffy's going to hate you, y'know, during the time that both of you have left"

Xander was silent. He glared at Tay. //Buffy wouldn't hate me would she? She'd know it wasn't my fault, wouldn't she?//

"It's all your fault as well" Tay continued "I mean, come on, you're supposed to be desperately in love with the girl and you couldn't even see through my flimsy charade. I'd be *very* disappointed in you if I were her. Imagine what her last thoughts would be" Tay carried on "She'll be watching you die, all the time thinking that if only you'd *seen* earlier, y'know, *thought* about it more, you'd have been able to avoid all this… this-" Tay held out one of her hands and the knife she'd discarded earlier flew back into her palm. She smirked "Heartache."

Xander's eyes fixated on the knife as Tay brought it closer and closer towards his face. When Tay brought knife to his cheek, he turned his attention to her and held her look as she pressed the sharp tip into his flesh. He tried not to flinch when he felt his flesh tear as Tay dragged the blade downwards.

Tay then brought the knife up and held it infront of them both "You've only got yourself to blame" Tay said again in a quiet, dangerous voice "You could have stopped all this before it got out of hand and before anyone got…" she smiled thinly "*Too* hurt" Tay leant closer to him "You could have saved her"

Suddenly Xander felt the weights that had been holding down his arms and legs lifted. Tay just kept smiling at him "I know you wanna hit me Xan. Come on, take your best shot."

Xander used his sudden adrenaline rush combined with momentum and hate to flip them both over, reversing their positions. He held down her wrists as she had his. "I might just take you up on that offer."

"You really like being on top don't you?" Tay gave a short laugh then looked at him expectantly "Well come on, hit me then. It's not like you've got all day" she then smirked "Or perhaps you've only just figured out that you can't hit me with you hands holding down mine. Hey, maybe I should help you out."

Before Xander even knew what had happened he felt himself flying through he air. He hit the wall over the opposite side of the room, hard. Hard enough for the plaster to crack. Tay stalked slowly over to him as he got to his feet, winded and gasping for breath. Xander felt blood trickle down into his eyes from a gash that he'd obviously just received on his forehead. Xander wiped it away and immediately swung at Tay, who blocked his clumsy blow easily.

She shook her head as she grabbed hold of him and threw him back against the wall again "Looks like all those blows to the head are effecting you."

Xander groaned as he picked himself back off the floor again "Well maybe if you stopped *hitting* my head, it'd be more of a fair fight" he retorted.

"Seems reasonable" Tay conceded as she then spun around and lashed out with her leg, her foot connecting with Xander' stomach "Is that better?"

Xander hit the wall again and slid to the floor. Instead of getting to his feet he was doubled over in pain. He spat some blood out of his mouth on to the floor. He looked up at Tay who stood over him "Much" he said sarcastically and proceeded to spit out more blood.

"Good" Tay hauled him to his feet by his hair and managed to turn him around, pushing him against the wall so his face was pressed into it "It's good that we agree on something."

Xander jabbed his elbow back as hard as he could into Tay's ribs. It caught Tay off guard for only a split second, but it was enough for Xander to twist around and then elbow her in the face, making her stagger backwards. Xander was then about to use that opportunity to strike her when he found himself being kicked in the stomach again.

He doubled over, coughing up blood this time. //It's probably too much to hope for that she's not a demon and just a really strong human//.

Tay reached down and picked Xander up by his sweater, throwing him face first against another wall, making Xander wish he lived in a more open plan apartment. Xander felt at least two ribs break and he knew even more were more likely cracked and bruised. Winded and mouth full with the metallic taste of his own blood, Xander was unable to stop Tay as she hauled him to his feet again and slammed him up against the wall he'd just hit. He also wished he'd had neighbours to hear his struggle.

Tay drew back her arm and Xander felt teeth loosen when her fist connected with his jaw. More blood began to trickle from the gash on his head and the other one on his cheek that Tay had inflicted on him. Xander tried to hit out at her again, but she blocked his blow and then jammed one of her forearms up against his throat, lifting him up slightly onto his toes and shoving back into the wall. Xander's arms immediately flew to the obstruction to his breathing, trying to pull her away from him, but Tay was too strong for Xander's efforts to have any merit.

"I find it very fascinating that you actually think you can win this fight" Tay mocked his attempt to get free of her "I mean look at you. You're all battered and bruised. Blood all over your face and struggling to breathe. And look at me. I haven't even broken a sweat let alone a fingernail" Tay gave him a look of disgust "Quite frankly I'm a little hurt you aren't putting up more of a fight. Surely you've had the crap beaten out of you enough times to get some practice"

"It's… never… been… personal… before" Xander choked out "Puts a… different… spin… on things."

Tay smiled slyly "Xander, I haven't even begun to get personal yet." She tugged at the waistband of Xander's jeans "Trust me." Tay's smile got bigger when she saw Xander's eyes widen when she slid her hand down between the denim of his jeans and his skin and then beneath the thin cotton of his boxer shorts. "*Now* I have"

"You're sick" Xander managed to spit out. He instantly regretted saying those words out loud when Tay gripped tightly in her hand something that he really didn't want here anywhere near.

"I thought you said I was… what was it?" Tay got right in Xander's face "Insane?"

Xander glared icily at her //I can think of a few other choice words as well//. "Y'know… it's hard… t-to believe" he coughed out "That you're even related to Ren"

Tay cocked her head to one side "One thing Xander" she said in a too soft tone "How do you know I'm not Ren?"

"You said… you weren't."

"But I'm an evil, insane, sick bitch. I'm pretty sure I could manage one lie" her eyes bored right into his as she continued to fondle "How do you really know I'm not just your extremely pissed off ex-girlfriend?"

"I can see it… in your *face*… in your eyes" Xander claimed

Tay laughed "You know her that well?" she shrugged "Well, maybe you do. You didn't seem to have much of a problem fucking someone who looked like her a couple of nights ago, did you?" Tay slid her hand from infront of Xander around to his behind, digging her long nails into him as she pulled him closer to her, pushing her hips into his and rubbing up against him "No problem at all"

Xander swallowed as hard as he could with Tay's arm up against his windpipe. "St-top it" Xander stuttered out "Stop i-it. Please."

Tay sneered at him and used both her hands to grab hold of him "Don't you fucking say *please* to me" Tay threw him to the floor and Xander groaned in pain again as he felt another rib go.

"Don't you *ever* say *please*" Tay kneed Xander in the head as he tried to get to his feet. Xander's head jarred sharply to the left and he slumped to the floor. His vision was rapidly becoming blurry and he barely had any strength left to fight back, Tay taking his energy each time she hit him or threw him up against a wall.

"Human's break so easily" he heard her mutter as she grabbed hold of the waistband of his jeans and dragged him back into the middle of the room. Tay dumped him unceremoniously on the low, wide table that sat between the TV and the couch.

Tay straddled him again but this time Xander didn't feel anything holding his limbs down, but he could barely move with her demon strength pinning him down in his weakened state anyway. Another knife materialised in Tay's hands. She brought it down to his stomach, Xander tried to use what remaining strength he had to try and push her away. But it was a pointless struggle. Tay just sighed frustratedly and wrenched the knife from grasp, hitting him in the face again for his troubles.

Tay then grabbed his throat with one strong hand, knife still in the other, not quite trying to choke him but certainly restricting his airflow. Momentarily, Xander saw Faith's image flicker over Tay's through his blood, sweat and tears impeded vision. But then when he heard her voice, she quickly became Tay again.

"I wonder if Buffy's watching this, wishing she could be me" Tay said to him coldly as Xander latched both his hands onto Tay's, struggling vainly to free himself from her hold. "Taking out on you all the pain you caused her" Tay continued to torment him, seeing that he was beginning to believe her cruel words. Tay grinned callously "And everyone else? They won't blame Buffy for this-" Tay smirked "*Tragedy*. They're gonna blame *you*. I mean, who else *is* there?" She took her hand from Xander's throat and Xander began taking big gulps of oxygen.

"I-I've never d-done a-anyth-thing to you" Xander managed to croak out as he took in welcome breaths.

"Oh, now that's not true" Tay smiled seductively, trailing one finger down his chest slowly "You've forgotten the conversation we had only a few" she ground herself down onto Xander's groin pointedly "Moments ago?" Tay grabbed the hem of Xander's sweater and pushed it up his body so it bunched up under his arms. Xander tried to struggle but it was hard with his broken and cracked ribs. He slumped weakly on to his back again when Tay backhanded him across his face.

"Now *now* Xander, that won't do at all" Tay pressed the tip of the knife onto Xander's bare chest just above his heart, breaking the skin just enough to produce one droplet of blood. She looked at Xander, contemplating her next actions.

Xander stared back at her "What? Can't you decide between whether to stab me or grope me again?"

"Actually I was thinking more about whether I wanted to hear you scream or not" Tay replied. Tay trailed the knife over the surface of Xander's upper torso until she reached a point to the left of his abdomen. "And no matter how much it would make me happy" Tay clamped her free hand over Xander's mouth before he could protest "I can't help but think it might attract attention."

Xander's eyes went wide when he felt the cold steel of the knife slice through his skin and muscle of his abdomen. Tay twisted the knife and Xander arched back off the table, his cries of anguish muffled against Tay's hand.

Xander felt his eyes grow wet with tears as Tay then proceeded to drag the knife slowly across his stomach. Ignoring the agonising pain in his ribs, Xander tried desperately to fight against Tay, against the way the knife was setting his abdomen on fire as the knife cut it's path. Xander could already feel his blood rising up through the wound and pumping slowly out and onto his stomach.

More cries got muffled against Tay's strong hand when she twisted the knife again. Xander screwed his eyes shut and his tears that fell no matter how desperately he tried to hold them back, stinging when they rolled into the still bloody gash on his cheek.

Tay withdrew the knife, and with her hand still over Xander's mouth, she closed the distance between them and put her lips to his ear. "Don't worry too much Xan, sweetheart" she murmured "It's all gonna be over soon"

Xander opened his eyes when he felt Tay's weight move off him. Then her hands were in his hair again, gripping hold of him and dragging him off the table and on to the floor. Xander's arms hung limply by his side as he found himself being hauled up to kneel before Tay. He kept his eyes locked on hers as she knelt opposite him. Xander tried to take the opportunity that he was now able to speak to alert anyone who was caring to listen to his distress, but Tay had other ideas, forcing her lips onto his.

He tried to cry out in protest, but it was suppressed by Tay's mouth and it only seemed to push Tay further, prompting her to jab her fingers into his stomach, literally. Xander felt Tay's fingers pushing themselves into his exposed and bloodied flesh and the tears of suffering flowed freely down his face. Xander clawed desperately at Tay, trying to get her away from him but she only held him against her tighter.

Xander's cries of pain had allowed Tay to plunge her tongue into his mouth and it made Xander sicker to his stomach knowing that she got some kind of perverted pleasure out of doing this to him.

Just when he thought he was finally going to pass out from lack of oxygen, let alone the amount of blood he was losing, Tay broke away from him, muttering curses under her breath. Xander thought he caught the words "Sister" amongst them, but Xander was rapidly losing any kind of coherence so he couldn't be sure.

Tay shoved Xander backwards and he hit his head against the low table. His eyes rolled back into his head and his breathing became more and more ragged.

"Looks like I've got to cut the party short" Xander heard Tay say in an irritated voice as he struggled to focus a little on the situation "Got some unwanted company very much on the way."

Without even hint of warning this time, Xander felt another flash of searing pain ripping through his abdomen. Then there was a blow to his chest from Tay's foot that caused him to roll on to his side. Blood gurgled up in Xander's throat and he then slumped over onto his stomach, the welcoming blackness approaching ever more quickly.

As his eyelids got heavier he felt Tay's breath on his neck "Thanks Xander honey" she crooned in his ear "It's been a real pleasure knowing ya."

Blood began to trickle out of Xander's mouth and onto the floor //I'm so sorry Buffy. Please don't hate me// Xander's eyes finally closed and he could feel his heart slowing down //Please don't…//.

### End flashback ###


Willow had moved herself into a more comfortable position on the bathroom floor as she continued to hold Xander in her arms. His sobs were beginning to subside, but Willow knew that they were far from gone. She stroked her fingers through his hair soothingly and moved with him as Xander rocked gently back and forth.

It had been a long time since Willow had held Xander like this. Not since Jesse had died. Xander had put on a brave face for her and their new friend Buffy, but for the next evening he had knocked on her door, crumpled pictures of Jesse and them both in one hand and a bottle of liquor stolen from his dad in the other. She'd held him when he cried and he'd held her.

Willow closed her eyes and rested her head against Xander's. She didn't understand what Xander had been saying when he said that Buffy had gone. Well, she understood the sentence, but she didn't understand why Xander would think Buffy was gone. She'd asked him what he meant a couple more times but he hadn't responded to her questions so Willow just kept holding him, trying to calm him down and wondering what on earth she was supposed to do now. She couldn't get up and leave him, she just couldn't.

Gradually Xander's sobs stopped and he sat still, leaning against her. Willow moved her head so she could see his face more clearly. His eyes were closed but his face was still wet with tears. She couldn't help but frown when she looked at the few faint scars Xander had on his face. A couple were reminders of earlier times when he'd been hurt, but the two largest ones - one on his cheek and one just under his hairline on his forehead - were from his encounter with Tay. And Willow had the horrible feeling that the *she* that Xander had been talking about earlier was Tay.

Willow rubbed soothing circles with her hand on Xander's back "Xander?" she asked in a soft voice "Do you want to get out of the bathroom?"

Xander looked at her, a lost and confused look in his eyes. Willow gave him a comforting smile "It's getting kinda cramped in here. Maybe if we get you to your bedroom-"

"We're in the bathroom?"

Somehow that simple question of Xander's tugged at Willow's heart more than anything he'd said so far. Willow tried not to let it show on her face as she brushed a lock of hair off Xander's forehead. "Yeah. Yeah we are" she replied then gave him a little smile "You don't feel your ass getting cold too?"

Xander didn't smile back. He turned his head into Willow's shoulder "I'm tired" he murmured.

Willow sighed "Then maybe we should get you to bed huh?"


"Come on" Willow tucked her knees under he and tugged at Xander "Let's get you up."

Xander raised his head to look at her. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "It hurt."

Willow looked at him sadly "Do you want to tell me about it?"

"I don't... don't know" Xander replied in a small voice. To Willow he looked like a kicked puppy. "Will it make it better?"

Willow wiped some more of his tears away "It might" she kissed him on the forehead quickly "Come on" Willow tugged at him again and Xander stood up with her "Try and get some sleep. I'll stay here and you can talk to me if you want when you wake up."

Xander let Willow guide him by the hand in to the bedroom. Willow sat him down on the bed and immediately he curled up into a ball, hugging his arms around his chest. Willow got on to the bed herself and sat beside him, brushing her fingers through his hair again.

"It's gonna be OK Xan" she said softly.

"Everything was my fault."

"I don't understand Xander" Willow said, "What do you think was your fault?"

Xander closed his eyes "I should have stopped her earlier" Xander pressed his face into his covers "Then Buffy wouldn't be gone now."

Willow took a deep breath "Do you... do you mean Tay Xander?". She felt Xander freeze when she mentioned the name. Willow took her hand away "Xander?"

She saw Xander's shoulders begin to shake, but his tears were silent. Willow blinked back a few tears herself and gently reached out and put her hands under Xander's shoulder's lifting him up enough so his head was in her lap. "Oh what the hell did she do to you sweetie?" Willow said as she tried to comfort Xander "It's OK. Shushhh."

Xander couldn't help crying. He felt so defeated. He'd tried so hard to keep Tay out of his mind. She'd beaten him, made him feel everything was his fault. Made him wish it would all just end so he wouldn't have to think about Buffy abandoning him.

But now it had happened. Like Tay said it would. Buffy had left him and now he didn't have anything to cling to. When he'd woken up from the coma, remembering everything, he'd pinned every will he had to keep on living on to Buffy forgiving him, accepting him back. He'd do anything she wanted him to. Just so Xander didn't lose her.

Willow waited until Xander stopped crying again and she could sense him drifting into some sort of slumber. She reached over to Xander's bedside table and picked up the telephone. Willow looked at Xander before dialling Buffy's number and swore under breath when all she heard was the tone that told her the line was engaged. She tried the number of the store but it just kept ringing. Willow frowned and looked at her watch. It was late in the afternoon, but she knew someone should be at the store. If not Buffy, then at least Giles. Willow tried Buffy's home number again but still got the engaged tone.

Willow dialled Tara's number //Please honey, please pick up... oh yes//


"Tara, it's me. Look something's happened. I need you to do a couple of things for me."

<What's wrong sweetie? You sound upset. It's nothing bad is it?> Tara asked anxiously.

"I'm at Xander's" Willow told her "I can't leave here and I need someone to try and find Buffy for me. She might be at home. I-I tried the store but-."

<Oh, I've just been to the store. I wanted to get some things from Giles but there was no one there>


<Do you want me to come over?>

"Would you please? I think I need someone else here."

<Is Xander OK?>

"No honey. He's really not."


"Rupert. Did you not hear me when I said I wanted you to leave me alone for a while?"

Giles hovered in the doorway to Ren's hospital room. It was just over an hour since Ren had asked him to leave. Ren hadn't taken it too well when he admitted that at first he'd thought Xander might had caused Ren's injuries.

"I just thought you might have had time to think-"

"Like you didn't?"

Giles walked up to her bed and put his hands on the rails on the side "Ren, you can't possibly know how horrible I feel. I-I didn't think, I know that. But I just came in and saw you with him over you and your blood on his hands knowing his feelings towards you and I just got-" Giles broke off and looked down "I'm sorry" he paused before looking back up at her, glad that at least she wasn't avoiding eye contact with him "I'm sorry"

"It's not me you should be saying it to, is it?"

"I know."

Ren sighed "Xander has enough problems as it is."

"Buffy said he seemed to be in shock" Giles sat down, thankful that at least Ren was talking to him, even thought the subject was a little touchy "She wasn't quite sure if he was taking anything in."

Ren frowned at him "He was a little edgy at the store" Giles gave her a puzzled look and Ren elaborated "He didn't even get angry with me, it was just like he didn't want to *be* there with me " Ren paused "He was beginning to weird me out"

"Yes, yes you said before" Giles sat back in his seat "He didn't say *anything* to you?"

"Well he said *stuff* but... but nothing like I expected. I'd prepared myself for this tirade of abuse and I didn't get one" Ren shrugged "I was kinda disappointed, I was really up for a good slanging match."

Giles began polishing his glasses "Yes, he's been rather good at those lately."

"One other thing" Ren continued "He didn't want me touching him"

Giles raised an eyebrow, not sure if he'd heard her right or what exactly her words implied "He didn't want you what?"

"I touched him on the arm a couple of times" Ren explained "He jumped back. Told me not to do it as well."

Giles was silent. Ren saw the thoughtful look on his face but didn't ask him was it was about. Ren gingerly prodded the gauze pad on her head. She winced slightly "I really hope this isn't going to scar." Ren shifted herself into a more upright position, her gaze flicking towards Giles when he got up and walked over to the window.

"What's up?" she asked.

Giles looked out the window for a couple more moments before turning to face her "What do we know about what happened between Xander and your sister?"

"She beat him to death's door and ripped open his stomach" Ren frowned at the memory "I'm glad Buffy did the same to her."

"But we don't know the exact details?"

"No…" Ren trailed off, her eyes following Giles as he began to pace infront of her bed "What are you thinking?"

Giles stopped moving and looked at Ren "I'm thinking we've missed something horrible" he said bleakly.


Buffy called out to Tara when she saw the blonde witch in the lobby of Xander's apartment building. She jogged up to the foot of the stairs to join the other girl. Buffy frowned slightly when she saw the odd look Tara gave her.

"What's up?" Buffy asked.

"Uh… I-I'm not quite sure" Tara replied "Willow asked me to come over"


Tara nodded "She said she couldn't get hold of you. At home or-or at the store."

"Oh… you don't know" Buffy realised "Giles said he was going to try and call Willow and you from the hospital."


"There was a-a… thing at the store. Ren got hurt pretty bad."

"Oh God" Tara exclaimed "What happened?"

"A jar flew off the shelf and hit her on the head. Giles said the stuff in it must have reacted to something."

"Is she going to be OK?"

"She'll be fine. She lost some blood and they're keeping her overnight but other than that…" Buffy trailed off "Why was Willow trying to call me?"

Tara followed after Buffy who had begun to climb the stairs "It was about Xander"

Buffy stopped "Xander?"

"Willow called me from here. She sounded upset…" Tara trailed off and she watched Buffy sprint off up the stairs.

"Xander?" Buffy called out when she entered Xander's apartment "Willow?"

Buffy heard a noise from the bedroom and shortly Willow's form emerged from it "What's going on?" Buffy asked.

"I could ask you the same thing" Willow said. She gave Tara a quick smile when her girlfriend came into the apartment.

"Willow, what do you mean?" Buffy asked "Where's Xander?"

"He's sleeping" Willow replied. She took Buffy's arm and led her away from the bedroom "He's not good."

"What do you mean 'not good'?"

"Buffy, why does he think you're not here. I mean, that you've gone somewhere?"

Buffy's face fell "I said I was going to go stay with my dad for a couple of days"

"Really?" Willow said "'Cos Buffy, I don't think that's the impression Xander got"

Tara noticed something "Buffy? Where's your ring?"

Willow looked at Buffy's hand then back at Buffy in confusion "Buffy?"

Buffy looked down at her hand "I-I did something I shouldn't have" she said quietly. Buffy looked up "I came here to talk to him"

Willow looked at Buffy sadly "He's really messed up Buffy."

Buffy walked over to Xander's room and pushed open the door. Willow had dimmed the lights but Buffy saw Xander's still form on the bed.

"It's probably best to leave him until he wakes up" Buffy heard Willow suggest from over her shoulder "Tara and I, we're gonna go. If you want anything, we'll be at Tara's."

Buffy turned to Willow "Thanks" she smiled warmly.

"Buffy" Willow lowered her voice "He was in a pretty bad way when I found him. I couldn't get much out of him... he was a little... distressed" Willow went on to tell Buffy how she'd found Xander and what he'd been like.

Buffy looked back at Xander, her face etched even more with concern. She walked a couple of steps towards the bed and then perched on the end. Xander lay in the middle of the bed on his side, his face turned into the covers. Buffy brushed some hair off his forehead. She brought two of her fingers to her lips, kissed them, then placed them on Xander's lips.

"I didn't know what to do" Willow continued "Buffy, a couple of things he said…just… Buffy, just be gentle with him" Willow went over to Buffy and put a hand on her friend's shoulder.

Buffy looked up at her "Thanks" Buffy gave Willow a grateful smile.

"If you need anything…" Willow headed back over towards the door and to Tara who was waiting in the doorway.

"I know" Buffy smiled tiredly at both the witches before Willow took Tara's hand and they left Buffy alone with Xander.

Buffy moved to the centre of the bed herself, resting her back somewhat against the headboard. She lifted Xander slightly and pulled him to her so he lay against her. Buffy sighed and closed her eyes, resting her chin on top of Xander's head.

She sat there with him like that for a couple of minutes before opening her eyes again. Even in the dim light she could see his tear stained cheeks. Buffy kissed him on the forehead and closed her eyes again.


(A while later)

Buffy was about to drift off to sleep herself when she felt Xander stir against her. Buffy kissed him softly on the top of his head and began stroking her fingers gently through his hair.

Xander's eyes fluttered about halfway open. It took him a few seconds before he realised that he was being held. Xander blinked a couple of times before he tilted his head upwards, expecting to see the familiar red hair of Willow. His breath caught in his throat when he saw who it actually was.

"Hey baby" Buffy whispered softly.

Xander stared at her for a few long seconds "B-Buffy?" Xander put his hand on her shoulder and pushed himself backwards slightly "W-what…"

Buffy smiled as best she could at him without wanting to seem to bright and cheery "It's OK. I haven't gone anywhere."

Xander looked at her with confusion on his face. Buffy brushed her fingers across his cheek and was glad that Xander put up no resistance as she manoeuvred them both into a more comfortable position - Buffy still sitting upright and Xander sitting just to her side and turned towards her. Buffy gave him a mixed look of warmth and concern. She took his hand.

"Do you want to tell me what's wrong?" she asked.

"But y-you said…" confusion was still evident in Xander's voice "I-I thought you were… were going."

"I know Xander. I know I said that. But-" Buffy squeezed his hand gently "But I made a mistake"

"You don't hate me?" he asked in a small voice.

Buffy's eyes went wide "What? Xander, *no*. Of course I don't hate you. I could never…" Buffy trailed off when she saw the beginnings of more tears in Xander's eyes. She felt herself begin to well up too and pulled Xander into a hug "Xander honey, I don't hate you. You can be frustrating and on rare occasions you do make me angry, but I could *never* *ever* hate you. I *love* you Xander"

Xander's hands gripped the back of Buffy's shoulders tightly "I just feel so horrible" he mumbled with his face pressed into Buffy's neck "I just want it all to go away."

"What do you want to go away Xander?" Buffy asked. She took one hand away from Xander to wipe at her eyes "Is it something I can hit?"

Xander pulled back from and looked down and said in a tired voice "You already did"

Buffy caught his chin and lifted it up so she could see his face "I did?" Buffy brushed one of Xander's tears away with her thumb "What did I hit?"

Xander looked away from her again and Buffy dropped her hand from his face as Xander took a few deep breaths. She took hold of one of his hands again "Xander, what did I hit?" she asked again.

Xander's eyes flicked back to her "Tay."

Buffy was momentarily stunned "Tay?"

"I've been trying to… to forget" Xander said hoarsely as he tried to keep himself from breaking down again "But I-I can't."

Buffy stopped Xander as he was trying to curl himself up in a ball again, hugging his knees up to his chest. Buffy kept him sitting in front of her "Xander don't zone out on me now OK? Please" she said, "I want you to keep talking to me"

Xander sniffed "Sorry."

"No, Xander. Don't say sorry. Just talk to me" Buffy pulled him onto her lap again so he was leaning with his back against her and hooked her legs around his.

Xander closed his eyes and his head fell back against Buffy's shoulder "It hurt" he said in a voice that was barely audible "It hurt so much. I couldn't stop her, she… she was too strong. I tried… I really tried but…" he trailed off, finding it too much to continue right then.

Buffy threaded her fingers through his "I saw how she left you Xander. I saw the mess she made of you" Buffy tried hard not to let the image linger in her mind "But I can't possibly imagine what it felt like" Buffy knew she couldn't, even when Tay had attacked Buffy as well, Buffy was able to handle it… she didn't break as easily as other people.

When Buffy had spoken to Ren when the ex-demon had returned to Sunnydale after disappearing when Xander was in a coma, Buffy had been more than alarmed to find out that Tay had been alone with Xander for a lot longer than Buffy had thought. Ren had explained to Buffy that it had taken at least fifteen minutes for Ren to clear out Buffy's system from whatever poison Tay had put in it because Buffy kept blacking out and Ren had to keep reviving her to complete the process. Include that in the time it took them to get to Xander's apartment… Buffy didn't want to think about it.

But now it looked like she had to.

"Did Tay tell you that I'd hate you?" Buffy asked.

Xander nodded and gripped Buffy's hand tightly. He needed to know she wasn't going to go away again. He'd been too close this time. Xander took a few more deep breaths.

"She told me i-it was all my fault" he said, "She said if I'd loved you enough then I would have been able to tell she wasn't you."

"That bitch talked too much" Buffy said bitterly "It was hard trying not to let her get at me"

Xander tilted his head upwards so he could look at Buffy "What'd she say to you?"

Buffy averted her eyes from Xander for a few seconds before looking back at him again "Stuff about you two" Buffy admitted in a quiet voice "What you did together"

Xander dropped his gaze from Buffy "I should have known it wasn't you."

"Xander stop it" Buffy said softly "You couldn't have. She tricked you. She tricked everyone. Even my mom OK?" Buffy hesitated before she spoke again "Xander, I'll admit to you that when I think of you two... it hurts. It hurts a lot" Buffy paused "But not like she used you... she just *took* you like… like-" Buffy's voice got more bitter and angry "She took you and made like you were *hers*" Buffy closed her eyes in an attempt to stop tears that she felt threatening to fall "And you *weren't*. You're *mine*"

Buffy's words echoed around Xander's mind. Catching Buffy off guard, Xander turned around in her arms and pressed his lips against hers, kissing her deeply. Buffy easily sank into the needful kiss, kissing Xander back as desperately as he was her. Hands wrapped around each other, they held one another tightly, neither one wanting to put space between them.

When the need for oxygen became to great for both of them, Buffy and Xander drew apart. Their foreheads rested against each other while their breath returned to them in small gasps.

"Mine" Buffy finally managed.

Xander didn't say anything. He pulled back from Buffy and rested his head against her shoulder.

Buffy began brushing her fingers through Xander's hair "Xander?"

"I'm sorry" Xander said softly. He drew back from Buffy and cast his eyes downwards "You shouldn't have to put up with me like this."

"Honey, I'm not putting up with anything" Buffy gave Xander a warm smile when he looked back up at her "You're upset" she continued "You went through something horrible. Anything like that is bound to have an effect on someone."

"You seem to be OK"

Buffy sighed "Sweetie, the first month you were in a coma I barely set foot outside that hospital. I was a complete wreck; it was all I could do to keep myself together. I had to see you everyday, hooked up to those machines, hoping upon hope that you'd wake up and just smile at me" Buffy blinked back tears "You wouldn't even have had to say anything to me. You'd just have to wake up."

"Buffy…" Xander reached out and cupped Buffy's cheek gently.

Buffy put her hand over his "I missed you *so* *much*" Buffy looked at Xander sadly and added in a quiet voice "I still do"

Xander stared back at Buffy. He knew she was right. He'd tried so hard to keep things as they'd always been since they'd been together but Xander had found that not everything is possible. No matter how much you want them to be.

Xander closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath. He opened his eyes again and moved to sit on the end of the bed, his feet resting on the floor. Xander hung his head and looked down.

Buffy stayed where she was, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed. She left a few moments silence between them before speaking. "What is it you find so hard to tell me Xander?"

Xander fiddled nervously edge of the bed cover "I feel so guilty about everything" he said finally "I feel so angry with myself for letting myself get fooled by that… by that evil bitch."

"But you shouldn't Xander" Buffy said "That's what I keep trying to tell you. It's not your fault" Buffy saw Xander's shoulder's tense when she said that last sentence. She moved a little closer towards him //… Something else?// "Xander?"

Xander stood up and walked over to the window. He watched the world outside in silence for a few moments while Buffy, meanwhile, looked at him with a mixture of love, concern, sadness and curiosity. "Xander?" she said again, hoping it would prompt him to do something, say something.

Xander turned around and met Buffy's gaze "Buffy… when I woke up from the coma, all… all I could think of was you. Everything that happened to me before-" Xander broke off and took a calming breath "I remembered. What she said, what she… she did. I thought you were dead too. When the doctors said you were there to see me, I-I felt so happy that you were OK but there was also this feeling inside me that when I saw you that you, I was going to see nothing but hate in your face… and i-in your eyes"

Buffy got up off the bed and walked the few steps to stand infront of him. "Xander-"

"Buffy please… let me finish" Xander took a few more calming breaths because he knew if he didn't that he would only break down again. "But I didn't see it and-and I was so relieved, y'know?"

Buffy took hold of Xander's hand "Go on."

Xander looked deep into Buffy's eyes "But I knew that it could all change just like that" the emotional strain in Xander's voice was becoming more evident "I-I wanted to do everything I could to stop it going bad. I thought that if I just did everything you wanted… everything you asked of me, it'd be OK" Xander dropped his gaze from Buffy's and Buffy took hold of his other hand. "And I tried, but it all seemed to get messed around in my head and… and I just got more and more confused when you said different things" Xander looked back at her "I really did try" he whispered.

Buffy looked back at with confusion "Xander, I don't understand" she told him gently. Buffy remembered he'd said a similar thing the previous night and it didn't make any sense to her. Was she supposed to have done something?

Xander took both his hands from Buffy's and wrapped his arms around himself "I don't think *I* do anymore"

"Sweetie" Buffy put a hand on his arm instead "Try and explain to me. Please."

Xander took another deep breath "I-I don't know whether it was because of what that bitch" Xander could bring himself to say her name "Said or-or what. But I… I just couldn't stop from blaming myself and you kept telling me that I shouldn't, that it *wasn't* my fault" Xander dropped his gaze again. He leant back against the wall and slid down to the floor. He looked back at Buffy sadly and saw the realisation dawning on her face "So I tried, I tried really hard to believe you, to *not* blame myself, but-"

"But you couldn't" Buffy finished for him. She knelt down beside him "Oh honey, I'm so sorry. I never thought that would happen. I didn't think-"

"Buffy don't" Xander caught hold of her hand "This is nothing you've done. I've screwed this all up by myself."


"No, I *have* Buffy" Xander's voice became clearer and more stronger "I had all that blame and anger I felt about myself and I because I felt I had to follow your words, I had to put it *somewhere*, take it out on something because I still *felt* it. I-I thought if I put it-" Xander broke off and hung his head, burying his face in his hands. He wasn't worried about breaking down anymore. He was just angry with himself.

Buffy put a hand on his shoulder "Was Ren just convenient or was there really something behind all that stuff you said about her?"

Xander looked backup at Buffy who had now sat closer beside him. "She is OK isn't she?" he asked his voice filled with concern. Buffy nodded. Xander sighed and shook his head. "Ren was just convenient" he answered dismally. Xander tilted his head backwards so it rested against the wall but still kept looking at Buffy "That night when she came to see me at the hospital" he continued "I was happy to talk to her, I really was. But then she came in and I *saw* her. Everything that was… that was" Xander swallowed hard "Tay. Everything that she did just came flooding back. Something flipped and I just felt sick. Like my guts were spilling all out again and all that bitch wanted to do was shove her tongue down my throat."

Buffy's reply got caught in her mouth. She stared at Xander with horror and concern in her eyes.

Xander looked back at her for a few seconds before dropping his eyes. "She was pretty sick" he said quietly.

"Yeah, and I think I'm gonna be" Buffy said, paling as she spoke "I am *really* glad she got shot in the head"

"With you there" Xander added. He looked back at Buffy as she snuggled up beside him. He squeezed her hand back gently when she took hold of it. They sat there for a little while in silence, both just savouring the nearness of one another.

Buffy sighed a few minutes later "So, in this screwed up head of yours when did it become necessary to take it out on other people other than Ren?"

"I was confused" Xander answered. He looked away from Buffy and gazed straight ahead "I didn't understand it when you told me not to blame myself but no-one wanted me to blame Ren either. I got angry with Giles because I trusted him and there he was with the…enemy. The fake enemy. And you" Xander looked back to her "You, everything I took out on you… it was just how I felt about myself. Angry at myself for not understanding what it was you wanted me to do."

"My god, you really were screwed up weren't you" Buffy replied with a faint hint of wonder in her voice.

"In my defence I had been in a coma. It was bound to make me a little nuts."

Buffy just looked at him, catching the faint glimmer of something in Xander's eye "I see the inappropriate jokes are back"


"Don't be" Buffy told him, a faint smile flickering across her face "I missed them."

Xander still gave her an apologetic smile. He laid his head on Buffy's shoulder and shifted forward slightly to allow Buffy to slip her arm around his shoulder. Buffy gave him a quick kiss just above his temple.

"You don't seem so mixed up now" Buffy said.

"I'd been trying so hard to stop myself from thinking about things that had happened. But after last night, when we fought… everything just began to unravel. I drank myself stupid last night… had the worst hangover ever this morning to show for it. Top that off with a major flashback session of my quality time with psycho bitch… I thought I'd pretty much lost it."

"Oh Xander…"

A mirthless laugh escaped Xander's lips "And that was even before I got to Giles' store" Xander shook his head "I wanted to see you. I was still confused about those mixed messages I thought you were sending me and I thought if I just talked to you about it…" Xander trailed off "But things just went from bad to worse"

"I'm so sorry I didn't stop and listen to you" Buffy spoke earnestly as she turned so she was facing him, dropping her arm from around him "I just thought if I did something to snap you out of your funk…"

"I think it worked."

"Not how I'd planned it though" she said "Not that it was actually a plan in the first place" she added. Buffy smiled warmly at Xander "Everything I said… I take it back. I'm not gonna go anywhere and certainly don't want to stop being engaged to you. We've got a lot to work through Xander and it's gonna take time" she told him "I know that. But we can make it."

"We'll be the Slayer and her emotionally screwed up boyfriend."


A small smile started to appear on Xander's face "I notice you didn't correct the emotionally screwed up part"

"You've been in a coma. It was bound to make you a little nuts."

Xander's smile got a little wider "I love you."

Buffy leant forward and kissed him softly on the lips "I love you too." Buffy stood up, pulling Xander to his feet too. "Wanna get out of this place?"

Xander nodded "I really hate it here."

Buffy took his hand and began to lead him towards the door "Then lets go home."


Joyce was clearing up in the kitchen when she heard the front door open. She dropped the dishcloth in the sink and walked into the front hall where she saw Buffy standing at the bottom of the stairs with a worse-for-wear looking Xander by her side.

She smiled warmly at both of them "You two kids want something to eat?"

Buffy shook her head then looked to Xander "You can't have eaten anything all day."

"No, I... I couldn't face anything" Xander replied quietly.

"In that case you should probably try and eat something now" Buffy said. She put her hand on his arm gently "Look, why don't you go take a shower or something and I'll make something food-like."

Xander nodded tiredly and headed upstairs. Buffy followed her mother through into the kitchen.

"He seems a little out of it" Joyce remarked.

"He is" Buffy replied "Things got a little rough for him."

"Oh" Joyce watched her daughter for a little while as Buffy started rummaging around in the refrigerator "But it's not like things weren't a little hard for you too."

Buffy turned to face her mother "Mom, it's a little more complicated than that."

"Than what?"

"Than whatever you're about to go into mom-overdrive about."

"Buffy honey-"

"Mom, please, it's been a long day" Buffy sighed "Can we do this tomorrow?

Joyce's brow creased just a little "Just make sure you take care of you too."


A few minutes later Buffy headed upstairs herself. She could still hear the water running so she knocked on the bathroom door and called to Xander, letting him know it was her and then she went in.

Buffy pulled aside the shower curtain and took some time out to ogle her fiancé appreciatively before her gaze came to rest on the almost identical scars on his stomach.

Xander noticed what she was looking at "Always thought it'd be cool to have battle scars" he said quietly "Turns out… not such a big rush" Xander shut off the water and Buffy handed him a towel.

"I guess I'd be lying if I said you'd stop noticing after a while" Buffy replied sadly.

"Probably" Xander wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped forward and kissed Buffy on her forehead "But you never know."

"True" Buffy smiled a little sadly back at him. She took another towel and looped it around his neck, keeping hold of both the ends. "You look beat."

"I feel beat."

"Want me to tuck you in?" Buffy gave Xander a small, happier smile.

Xander chuckled softly "Sounds good" Xander brushed some of Buffy's hair back behind her ear. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Opening them again he looked at Buffy with nothing but seriousness. "Can I tell you something first?"

"Sure" Buffy said softly. She reached out tentatively and brushed the tips of her fingers oh-so-gently against his scars "This?"

Xander took hold of Buffy's hand that was by his stomach and nodded "I think… if I tell you everything… what happened between-" Xander broke off and dropped his gaze from Buffy, ducking his head.

Buffy put her arm around him, her hands clasping at his bare back and laid her head against his chest "It's OK" Buffy began to feel him trembling slightly. Not from cold, but from more tears. Buffy held him closer, closing her eyes to stop her own tears that she felt beginning to creep up on her.

"It's OK" she said again "You don't have to."

"I do" Xander drew back from her and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. He tried to give Buffy at least an attempt at a smile to show her he wasn't too much of a wreck. He failed. Xander drew in a shaky breath "I almost lost you because I didn't tell you. I don't want that to happen again."

Buffy looked silently back at him, letting him know that she understood. She took his hand again and stepped back towards the door, tugging Xander's hand gently "Come on" she said softly "Lets get you dressed first"

Xander followed Buffy into her bedroom. Xander sat down on the bed while Buffy took some clothes from the closet for him. Buffy swapped places with Xander while he dressed then moved so Xander could sit so he was leaning against the headboard. Buffy sat just to the side of him, close, but giving Xander some space.

There was an encouraging look mixed in with the apprehensiveness in Buffy's eyes "Where do you want to start?"

Xander closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he began telling Buffy everything he could never wanted to remember before about his time with Tay.


Xander awoke the next morning to find himself comfortably entwined with a soundly sleeping Buffy. They were both still fully dressed from last night and lying on top of the covers. Buffy's head lay on Xander's chest near his shoulder and her long hair fell over her face and across Xander. Xander tried not to move too much, lest he disturb her, just raising his head a little. He delicately removed her hair from her face and began to watch her sleep.

//I can't believe I almost lost her. I came so close// Xander fought the urge just to sweep Buffy up in his arms and hold her tight to him. He had to let her be. Xander could see that even when she was sleeping she looked tired. He knew what he had put her through and realised that if she had been a weaker person… he'd be alone right now. Xander knew how lucky he was. Couldn't *believe* how lucky he was.

But Xander knew there was still more for them both to go through before things were better for everyone. Xander watched her for a few minutes more before closing his eyes again and began to drift back of to sleep.


About half an hour later Buffy awoke herself. She yawned and pushed herself up and away from Xander. Turning a little onto her side, Buffy ran a hand through her hair and cursed a little too loudly when her fingers got caught in some tangles and thus woke Xander.

Buffy gave Xander a sheepish smile when his eyes opened and focused on her. "Sorry and morning" she said.

Xander stretched "Morning" he propped himself up on his elbows, but so he was still lying on his back.

"Sleep well?" Buffy asked.

"Well enough" Xander said "But better than I thought I would" he added when Buffy gave him a concerned look. Xander surprised himself by managing a genuine goofy grin "I had Buffy snuggles"

This time Buffy had to bite her lip to stop herself laughing, although it was there for all to see in her eyes. "Glad I could help" Buffy leant forward and gave him a quick kiss on the lips "You gonna be OK if I go take a shower?"

Xander picked up the concern underneath the question even though Buffy said it lightly. He nodded in reply.

Buffy gave him a warm smile "OK." Buffy got up off the bed and stretched again before walking over to the window while Xander lay back down on the bed. Buffy drew the curtains open a little, letting a few rays of mid-morning sunshine into the room.

"And I have Mr Gordo" Xander stated as he then sat up, holding said stuffed toy aloft "I'm set"

Buffy smiled at Xander "Don't under estimate Mr Gordo" she said "I happen to know he's very good at what he does."

Xander placed the toy back down and got up off the bed. "So are you" he said, smiling sincerely "I keep thinking I've asked to much of you… but you still stay… and you still-" Xander was silenced by Buffy's finger on his lips.

"Xander… I love you" Buffy said and took her finger away "But I'm not saying it hasn't been hard… the arguments… your frustrations… they took their toll on me as well as you" Buffy paused "And I was beginning to feel we were losing each other and I couldn't stand that either" Buffy leaned her forehead against his chest "We've been through so much together" she looked back up at him and into his eyes "How could I not at least try?"

"The last thing I ever wanted-"

"I know" Buffy stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips hard against Xander's, kissing him passionately. Xander responded just as ardently and wrapped one hand around her waist, the other on the back of her head, his fingers threaded into her hair.

Buffy clutched at Xander's back, almost digging her nails into his flesh through his thin sweater. "Don't lose me now" she murmured when they drew apart for air.

"Not gonna" Xander replied breathlessly, kissing Buffy fervently again "Never."

A small moan escaped Buffy's lips when Xander began kissing along her jaw and then slowly down her neck, sending shivers down her spine "Xander?" Buffy asked as she slipped her hands underneath his sweater, making contact with his bare skin.

"Hmm?" Xander replied, although still paying attention to Buffy's neck.

"I still need that shower" Buffy moved her head to catch Xander's lips again in a quick, almost bruising kiss "Scrub my back?"

Xander scooped Buffy up into his arms "We don't need Mr Gordo for that, right?"

Buffy smacked him lightly on the shoulder "Not for what we're gonna do" Buffy kissed him again and Xander carried her towards the bathroom "I want you wet" she said, breathless, seductively "I want you hot. I want you" she kissed him again "*I* need" Buffy kissed him once more "*You*"

They'd made it to the bathroom now. Xander dropped his hold on Buffy's legs so she touched the floor again. Buffy kicked the door closed with her foot as Xander tugged his sweater over his head.

Buffy ran her hands over his chest "Show me how much you don't want to lose me."

Xander kissed Buffy deeply again. He knew she wasn't being selfish. He knew that this was something both of them needed. Something to connect themselves to one another again.


(Later that afternoon)

Having called the hospital earlier to check on Ren she'd been told the other woman had checked out so Buffy had made her way over to Giles', hoping that Ren would be there.

Buffy knocked at the door and was a little surprised to see Ren answering the door herself. "Hey" she smiled at the older woman "Up and about I see" Buffy gave Ren a sympathetic smile, gesturing to the cut's on her head. Ren had her hair pulled back in a ponytail that exposed the main three gashes that had stitches, the rest of the injuries being only bad scratches

"Had enough of sitting about on my arse" Ren replied with a smile. Ren stepped aside to let Buffy through "And Rupert fussing. I sent him out for some half decent food" Ren closed the door and then realised something "Oh, you didn't want to speak to him did you?"

Buffy shook her head and sat on one of the stools by Giles' kitchen counter "It was you I wanted to see actually. About Xander."

"Xander’s OK, isn’t he?" Ren asked, concerned "I was worried about him yesterday, y'know, after…"

Buffy shook her head again "There was more stuff that happened after that as well. Some stuff I said to him…" Buffy sighed sadly "It affected him more than I ever thought it would" she told Ren "Willow found Xander last night. He’d had… I don’t want to say breakdown, but… everything just finally got to him and he didn’t take it too well. Upset doesn’t cover it."

Ren took a seat next to Buffy "What? But he’s OK now, right?"

"He’s better" Buffy replied "Not totally OK though. There’s a way to go yet" Buffy paused "That’s why I wanted to see you. There’s stuff you should know. About why he’s been acting like such an… asshole"

Ren narrowed her eyes a little "Does Xander actually *know* you’re here?"

Buffy hesitated "Sort of. He doesn’t actually know I’m here *right* now. He was asleep when I left. He was a little… exhausted from… earlier" she explained, trying not to look too awkward "But he did say that he wanted to speak to you."

"Please tell me he didn’t say that during the sex."

"The wha-" Buffy faltered "H-how did you…."

Ren smirked. "Buffy I've never seen the term 'after-sex-glow’ apply to somebody as much as it did to you when you got here."

Buffy flushed bright pink "Um… we were, um… re-establishing some… stuff."

Ren grinned a little "Gotcha." Ren's smile faded a little as she got back on the subject "So, Xander wants to make nice" she said "But *you* want to talk to me first" there was understanding in Ren's eyes "You’re protecting him."

"I just don’t want him to have to tell it again" Buffy said "If you already know, it’ll make it easier on him"

Ren stood up and began to pace a little. She looked across at Buffy "This is about Tay isn’t it?"

"It’s where it starts, yeah."

"Yesterday, at the hospital" Ren said "Rupert thought that maybe it might have something to do with that but he couldn’t be sure. He wanted to speak to you first… test the water. He didn’t want to risk triggering anything with Xander if he didn’t have to" Ren stood still and faced Buffy "Rupert's still beating himself up about everything… the things he said to Xander."

"Xander understands" Buffy replied truthfully "But he’s got his own stuff going on at the moment."

Ren sat back down next to Buffy "Then why don’t you tell me about it?"


Later that evening Xander sat upstairs in his and Buffy's room. He was awaiting a visit from Ren. Buffy had told him she'd been to see her and had explained things. Xander had been grateful. Even though he'd wanted to speak to Ren first, he hadn't been relishing repeating everything in great detail over again.

He was just glad that she was willing to speak to him.

The knock on the door startled him, even though he'd been expecting one. The door opened and Ren stuck her head tentatively through the gap.

"There's not a tripwire or anything behind this door is there?" Ren asked, grinning so Xander could see she was joking.

"No, but you might want to watch out for the bucket of acid above you"

Ren pushed the door open further and walked in. The door closed as if by magic behind her, but Ren knew Buffy had followed her up.

Xander stood up and faced Ren. He just stood looking at her, unsure of what to say or even where to begin.

"If it helps" Ren said softly "Buffy told me everything."

Xander ducked his head "I know" he said quietly "Still…"


Xander looked up at her again and saw Ren was holding out her hand towards him.

Ren gave him a tender smile "Come here."

Xander looked at her for a couple of moments before taking one hesitant step forward "I'm sorry" he whispered softly.

Ren put her hand gently on his shoulder and Xander collapsed forward into her arms, burying his face in the curve of Ren's neck, hoping that it would suffice to hide the beginnings of fresh tears.

Ren brought one hand up to the back of his head and did well to hold back the tears herself "Oh Xander, I can't believe she broke you" Ren sniffed "I wish I'd never gone away"

Xander held her tighter "I missed you so much" he said hoarsely, feeling a tear roll down his cheek "I'm so sorry."

Ren drew back a little from Xander and he raised his head to look at her. Ren brushed away another tear of Xander's before it fell too far "You don't have to say anything else Xander, I understand. Everything… why you blamed me" she sighed "And I can't say I wasn't hurt by your words, but at least I know-" Ren broke off and sighed again "But it's not something I can hold against you now" Ren brought one hand up to cup Xander's cheek gently and her voice got softer, barely audible "I could never hold anything against you, OK?"

Xander held her gaze for a moment before nodding. They both leaned forward just enough so their foreheads rested against one another's, both closing their eyes, tears waning.

"We're OK" she murmured, then Ren looped her arms around Xander's neck while Xander's arms dropped down so they were resting lightly around Ren's waist.

Xander held her tightly "Thank you."

They stood together for a few moments more in silence before Ren spoke again "None of this should ever had happened" she said quietly "If only I'd gotten to her quicker in France…"

Something clicked in Xander's mind. He opened his eyes and looked at Ren who was looking back him with regret in her eyes "That's why you went?"

Ren nodded "I missed her by one day" Ren drew back from Xander and walked away from him to sit on the end of the bed "*One* *day*"

Xander sat next to her "I was your job. You were busy saving my butt Ren" he said, "Could you have really got there any quicker?"

Ren hesitated, thinking. "No" she said "No I couldn't have" Ren took hold of one of Xander's hands and looked into his eyes "And you were never just my *job* Xander" she paused "You know that"

Xander still held her gaze "Do you really think we would have worked?"

"We had something" she replied sadly "We could have tried harder, got past all the other issues."

"Like you being a demon" Xander pointed out lightly.

"Like me being a demon" Ren grinned a little "And the fact you had those Buffy-tinted glasses on. Despite the fact I could have easily kicked her arse and got her outta the way, you still would have been wearing them."

"I still am."

"Gee, who would've guessed?" Ren rolled her eyes "Xander" she said with a sigh "If it wasn't for the way you feel about Buffy, you wouldn't have gotten all screwed up like this"


"And Xander?" Ren smiled a little " I don't want you to take this the wrong way but, well… I'm over you."

Xander smiled a little back "I kinda figured that with the whole you sleeping with Giles thing"

"Yes… well" Ren cleared her throat and spoke more seriously "Please… could you talk to him soon… sort things out…?"

"I will" Xander promised "I don't want anymore badness between us all"

"Thanks" Ren smiled graciously "It means a lot."

Xander smiled back. "Hey Ren?" he said after a small silence between them "I don't want you to take this the wrong way but…" he started off smiling then looked seriously at her "I love you"

Ren smiled and leaned over to hug her friend "I love you too"




(Two months later) (Epilogue…?)

It was nearing midnight and all around the small area of the cemetery, sounds of fighting could be heard. Suddenly there was a shout and a tall figure flew through the air and landed on the ground with a thud.

All the air expelled quickly out of Xander's lungs but he raised a hand letting the others know he was OK.

"Owwww" Xander groaned as he got his breath back. He did a speedy check around to see if he was about to be attacked. He wasn't. Xander shook his head trying to regain some focus and he moved his jaw from side to side a couple of times. He looked over to Buffy and grinned when he saw the mess she was making of the one-eyed, seven-foot tall, orange skinned demon she was fighting. The others seemed to be holding their own too.

"Ugh" Xander shook his head again and went to stand up. He'd almost made it to his feet when he was knocked to the floor again after being hit by another person flying towards him and they quickly became a tangle of limbs.

"Sorry" Ren groaned as she pushed herself up from Xander "I think I called him one too many names"

"You OK?" he asked as Ren rolled off of him and on to her back "Cuz my ass is definitely bruised"

Ren lay beside him "I don't see why Rupert got the cross-bow" she grumbled "Everyone knows I'm the best with it"

Xander pushed himself up onto one elbow and looked to where Giles, cross-bow in hand, was crouched near Willow and Tara and protecting the two witches while they began to incant a spell trying to reverse whatever magic the demon had started.

"He seems to be doing OK with it at the moment" Xander said as Giles fired a bolt into the heart of the demon that had thrown Xander and then Ren, fatally wounding it. Xander turned back to Ren "And you weren't quick enough when it came to dishing out the weapons."

"Yeah? Well at least I didn't get 'piece of wood with nail in it'" Ren sat upright and bent one knee up to her chest so she could rest her arm on it "Why doesn't Buffy just kill that guy?" Ren demanded as she watched Buffy still fighting with the tall demon "She's just playing with him."

Xander grinned as he watched Buffy slam the demons head into a headstone "But look at her face, she's having so much fun" Xander sat up too "Plus there's only one left" he added "Why not make the most of it?"

Ren sighed and reached inside the leather jacket she was wearing and produced a chocolate bar. She tore off the wrapper and took a bite before offering it over to Xander "Want some?"

"Stupid question" Xander took it off her "Oooh Cadbury's" Xander took a bite and handed the bar back to Ren. They both sat munching on the chocolate while watching Buffy continue to pummel her opponent. Ren waggled her fingers at Giles when the older man shot a concerned look their way. Giles' look quickly became slightly despairing and Ren shrugged gesturing around them that there was nothing for them to fight.

"So" Ren said to Xander "How's them counselling sessions going?"

"Good" Xander replied " A little strange" he added, "She keeps asking me totally off the wall questions. Like, yesterday, she asked me which Sunset Beach character I most identified with."

"So who'd ya pick?" Ren asked, grinning "Y'know, after you pretended you hadn't *actually* watched the show"

"I picked Ben, OK?" Xander replied, with a slight sigh "I mean, he got his girl"

Ren just raised an eyebrow "Ah. And that would be the same Ben who also had an evil twin?"

"*Which* she *also* pointed out. Obviously the question wasn't so wacky" Xander sighed again "So, still having the issues. But she is helping" he added "It's now easier to think of the reasons why I *shouldn't* feel guilty rather than the reasons why I feel I *should*" Xander's gaze wandered from Ren.

Ren followed Xander's line of sight "Reasons like Buffy?" she asked as she joined Xander in watching the blonde Slayer hurling the orange skinned demon against a large tree "I mean about why you *shouldn't*?"

"Yeah" Xander smiled happily.

Ren smiled and got to her feet "I don't know about identifying with" Ren said "But I would have loved to have been Annie Douglas."

"She stole babies Ren."

"Yeah, but she looked good doing it and never went near a turkey baster" Ren stretched and yawned "God I'm knackered" she held out her hand to Xander and he was about to take it when something caught his eye over to the right of where Giles was stationed.

He jumped to his feet and called out "Buffy!" as another orange demon lunged towards her just as she killed the other one.

But it struck Buffy before she could really retaliate and it hurled her across the small clearing where she hit the hard stone wall of a crypt. Buffy cried out in pain when she collided with the wall. Black spots began to dance before her eyes.

Xander called out to her again and Giles fired a shot but it missed as the demon easily dodged. Ren came at it from behind with her sword, but it spun and just raised its arm and backhanded her so she went flying back through the air. Xander grabbed the sword that had flown from Ren's hand.

"Are you OK?" he asked as Ren grimaced in pain and gripped hold of her shoulder.

Ren didn't answer but, gave Xander a nod to let him know she was OK.

Suddenly Xander saw the demon head over to Buffy, who was still a little dazed. He charged over to the demon that now stood on top of a headstone, looming over Buffy as she tried hard to fight it.

Giles was firing at the demon to and as it dodged the last missile from Giles, it turned and saw Xander heading towards him, sword in hand.

It hissed at Xander through a row of nasty looking teeth. It was bigger all round than it's friend that Buffy had been fighting, at least a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier. Xander thought the demon was going to make a move towards him and he readied himself, but the demon suddenly turned on it's heel and jumped at Buffy.

There was no way Xander could get to it before it picked up Buffy and hit it's claw like fist into her face and hurled her against the side of a crypt about ten feet away. Xander kept after the demon as it went for Buffy again, hauling her up by her hair and driving it's fist towards her face, but before it could make contact, Xander swung the large piece of two by four he'd been using earlier at the demon's head.

The demon howled and reeled backwards, lashing out at Xander and then throwing him backwards along with Buffy. The couple hit the ground together and Xander saw a long line of blood flowing down one side of Buffy's face and her eyes were closed. He looked up as the demon prepared to launch itself at them both.

Xander focused hard as something he'd thought long forgotten popped into his brain. He chanted the few phrases quickly in his head the required amount of times before shouting out loudly "Ignis!" as the demon was in mid air, ready to pounce on them both.

Xander pulled Buffy close to him and tried to shield her as much as he could when his words had the desired effect and the demon burst into flame in mid-flight.

Xander waited until there were no more howls from the demon to be heard before he dared look up. He gave a sigh of relief when he saw the smouldering corpse of the demon lying about two feet away from where they were sprawled. Xander turned his attention back to Buffy whose eyes were now open. She grimaced and touched her fingers to her head, noting the bleeding had almost stopped. She took her fingers away and grimaced again when she saw the blood on them.

Buffy raised her head a little and saw the smoking body near to them and then looked back to Xander who was looking at her with justified concern. She smiled at him "That was cool."

Xander sat up and brought Buffy with him, supporting her, as she still looked a little disorientated. "You really OK?". Xander knew that occasionally Buffy got bad knocks but she always recovered pretty quickly - still, he always asked.

"I'm fine" Buffy said, reassuring him "Nothing a Band-Aid…" she winced "And maybe an ice pack and some butterfly stitches won't cure" Buffy grinned at him, slightly in awe "That was still really cool."

Xander kissed her forehead softly "Thanks."

Xander and Buffy got to their feet and looked around hesitantly; Buffy tuned her senses in to the surrounding area, trying to ascertain whether there was anymore danger. There wasn't. Buffy looked over to Giles who was now headed over towards Ren, leaving the two witches to pack up after their successful work. Willow and Tara were looking at Xander with slight surprise, but wearing grins.

Xander just shrugged nonchalantly "I have a thing."

"I see all that previous destruction of furniture finally came to fruition" Ren said, still holding her shoulder as she walked over to Buffy and Xander with Giles close by her side "Nice work" she congratulated him with a grin.

"Fruition?" Xander said to Ren with a raised eyebrow, he nodded towards Giles "You really *have* been spending too much time with him"

Ren leaned up against the older man, who in turn put an arm around her waist "Yeah, but it's been all good though."

"So that was the famous, um, 'thing' then was it?" Giles said "Very impressive" he told Xander with a smile.

Buffy grinned up at Xander as she wrapped her arms around his waist "His thing is always impressive"

"Oh please" Willow commented as she and Tara joined the other four "Don't you two ever give it a rest?"

"You'd think we'd be immune to it by now" Giles added, trying not to smile at Xander's slightly embarrassed expression.

"Are we all done?" Tara asked, looking around at the others "'Cos I get the feeling everyone just wants to go home and have sex". Everyone gave Tara an odd look. "What?" Tara said, "E-everyone else gets to say stuff like that"

Everyone turned to look at their respective partners, looks were exchanged and then exits were hastily made.


(A while later that night)

Xander wrapped his arms around Buffy and pulled her closer to him so they were entwined; her back against his chest and her head in the crook of his neck. Buffy sighed contentedly and pulled the bed covers further up around them both.

"That was still very cool," Buffy said.

"Buffy, it was only a few words of Latin" Xander replied "Wills and Tara and Giles can speak it"

"I meant the sex."

"Oh" Xander nuzzled against Buffy's ear "It's just that *cool* wouldn't have been *my* first choice for what you were thinking" he nibbled on Buffy's earlobe.

Buffy tried to melt back as much as she could into Xander "Well when you put it like that…" she murmured happily, content to let Xander continue with what he was doing for a few more moments before speaking again "Hey, I have a thought. Why don't you just do that fire thingy on everything when we go out on patrol and then you and I can spend… mmm… more time right… mmm… here" Buffy sighed happily "I could hang up my Slaying shoes"

Xander tailed off his ministrations despite a displeased whimper from Buffy "It's still a temperamental spell" Xander told her "Ren said from the start it was always gonna be sixty forty against it actually working… well like it did last night, until I get more practice. Until then, it's more likely to be just a little sizzle. *And*" Xander added, kissing Buffy's temple lightly "I know you'd miss Slaying eventually, despite my studliness"

Buffy giggled "Hmmm… maybe" she took hold of one of Xander's hands and threaded her fingers through his "Y'know, I think it's nice that the whole gang is all couply". Buffy shifted in Xander's arms so she was on her side and snuggled up beside him, her arm draping over his chest.

"I know. Everyone has someone. Wills and Tara are just too cute for words and…"

"Yeah, Giles is pretty much head over heels too" Buffy replied. She sighed "But, y'know, I see him sometimes… he looks at Ren like… like he's just expecting her to leave again"

"She's not gonna leave. She loves him."

"She does?" Buffy then yawned "OK. Good enough for me" she yawned again "Maybe we'll have a double wedding."


"Lighten up. It'll be fun," Buffy said sleepily.

"I don't doubt it Buffy" Xander replied in slightly more hushed tones "But as much as I like them both, I kinda wanted it just to be *our* day"

Buffy let her eyes drift shut "Oh. OK, I like that idea better" she murmured. There was a relaxed silence between them for a few moments before Buffy continued "I want to get married on the beach" she said, tiredness becoming all too more evident in her voice "At midnight"

Xander closed his eyes felt himself begin to drift off himself "Sounds nice."

"Everyone could sit on the sand" Buffy continued "And… and candles. Lots of candles."

"You'd look beautiful in the moonlight" Xander murmured drowsily "I can see you… long flowing white dress… little pink flowers in your hair."

"I'd look beautiful?"

"More than ever."

"I like that" Buffy snuggled even further up against him and Xander's hand moved to rest lightly on her hip "S'pretty"

There was another brief, comfortable silence



"Love you."

"Love you too Buff"




*~* END *~*



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